Curator of Film, Museum of the Moving Image
|A Woman under the Influence
|2001: A Space Odyssey
|Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
|Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
|The Right Stuff
A Woman under the Influence
The film that permanently altered my expectations of what a film could be and do. Formally and temporally audacious – 45 minutes pass before it's clear who these people are and what's going on with them – emotionally and psychologically so complex and mercurial that it's impossible to process what's happening without noting each physical gesture and conversational turn: this is the rare case when a director's most celebrated and accessible film is also his best. The loose parameters of the domestic melodrama allow him, and his protagonist, to smash against them, defamiliarising a familiar space from the inside out. As if more reasons were needed for being here, it also features the greatest performance in the history of the medium, courtesy of Gena Rowlands as Mabel Longhetti.
2001: A Space Odyssey
It took the art of film somewhere it had never been before, and nothing has gone anywhere near it since.
Cinema's scariest and truest ghost story, it upends declarations and assumptions about the documentary value and purpose of cinema to eschew visual archival evidence of the past, relying instead on present-day environmental remnants and personal testimonies of the past, which have far more to yield, and avoids an over-reliance on footage that's inadequate and incomplete by contrast – especially considering the task at hand. Fortunately, thanks to an ingenious, thorough and tireless approach to interviewing, Lanzmann himself was up to the task of turning a series of talking heads into the greatest documentary of all.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
It's quite possible that cinema peaked in 1927, and considering the greatness of Sunrise there's not even any shame in that.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One
Chaos as coherent message, artistic shambles as generatively creative, auto-critique as puppet-7 mastery, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is cinema's wildest, funniest, and most inclusive experiment, designed to baffle those on and behind the screen, as well as those watching it. "What kind of film is it?" a cop asks director William Greaves as he herds confused cast and crew through a hot Central Park day. "It's a feature length we-don't-know," he answers, smiling. An aptly fractured portrait of the 1960s has lost none of its powers to challenge and transform those who take the ride.
In the Mood for Love
The new century began with this drift into the past; Hong Kong's changeover from colonialist control began with sorrow over what was lost – what already been lost – with empathy over the impossibilities of living amid and reconciling with it all. Time leaves unsatisfying options for the unresolved. Wong never insists on the dimensions of his film, deliberately hinting at other paths and interpretations. Among infinite possibilities (explored through a notoriously exploratory, skittish process) he made a certain shape out of time, and fixed it there to represent a receded past. Memories are uncontainable, and therefore we must try to contain them.
Its reputation for greatness is beyond deserved but canonisation risks smothering its still live charge, pinning behind glass a work of art that still has the power to astonish, disrupt and shatter. Few works have ever been as capable of expressing the exquisite beauty and prevailing intolerability of living.
Objectified male bodies marching, marching, marching through the desert while Neil Young's 'Safeway Cart' incongruously spins on the soundtrack = a cinematic sublime matched only by a closer that never really stops, and is still ongoing in my head.
The Right Stuff
A personal favorite that has graduated into something greater – I'm not sure any Hollywood film has better represented and critiqued all of the American mythos, ethos, military-industrial complex, rugged individualism vs collectivisation, westerns, screwball and buddy and borscht-belt comedies, kitchen-sink drama and Cold War space dreams than this early 80s whatsit posing as Oscar bait. It's all here and it's constantly courting disaster, and yet it all works without sanding any edges. Nothing is this ambitious and offbeat and also this good.
Picking just one Tarkovsky is a loser's game, but to me this is a definitive statement about the artistic process, eschewing laborious practice to focus instead on how mind, eye, soul and gesture of the artist are born of environment, culture, history and morality. It's also virtuosic filmmaking that's motivated at every turn by meaning and feeling.